Was Jesus a real person? The majority of Americans think so. But the percentage of younger adults who believe Jesus literally walked the earth is dropping. In 2015, Barna Group released a study conducted between 2014 and 2015. Their findings showed only 87% of Millenials agreed Jesus actually lived.

How have you answered this question in your everyday faith conversations? Is there historical evidence that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person who really walked the earth?

Who is the historical Jesus? Did He exist at all? Be bold and fearless for the Gospel with the help of these books on the quest for the historical Jesus. #FearlessfortheGospel #Jesus #history #books
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Why study the historical Jesus?

The quest for the historical Jesus is an academic study devoted to studying the historical evidence and providing us with accurate historical portraits of who Jesus is.

Since the 18th century, there have been 3 “quests” for the historical Jesus. The current quest began about the 1980s, using the most recent research methods.

So why study the historical Jesus? Aren’t the biblical accounts enough? Shouldn’t we just have faith?

We cannot argue people into the kingdom, but we can overcome unreasonable objections with reasonable historical evidence #apologetics #JesusofNazareth #historicaljesus Click To Tweet

Historical Jesus studies give us the needed context for our faith conversations

Darrell Bock answered this question well in an essay in Christianity Today when he said:

Historical Jesus work cannot take the place of faith…[historical Jesus studies] helps us get the context of those actions

In our everyday faith conversations, context matters. If we have not studied for ourselves, how can we be honest with the people we are talking to? When people say they don’t believe Jesus actually existed, how do we know He did?

We cannot argue people into the kingdom, but we can overcome unreasonable objections with reasonable historical evidence.

To get started discovering the historical Jesus and understanding the Jesus Quest, I have researched the best books available. First, we start with a guide to the study of the historical Jesus.

Then I’ll present a few different books that discuss the issues with publicly celebrated (but controversial) scholars while the media ignores the majority scholarly views that contradict them.

Books for Learning About the Historical Jesus of Nazareth

No matter how great an author or their content is, it is impossible for everyone to agree with every statement made in every book written by every author. I don’t, and I don’t expect you will, either. I’ve researched and hand-selected these books because I think they will help you think well about your faith by discovering who the historical Jesus of Nazareth is.

Here is how I evaluated the books:

  • Researched recommendations from various New Testament scholars, both secular and Christian, to provide a balanced approach to the study of the historical Jesus
  • Evaluated professional and consumer reviews of the books detailing the study of the historical Jesus of Nazareth
  • Looked for books that would be accessible for the layperson / non-specialist
  • Gave preference to academic publishers to help ensure scholarly-level work
  • Chose books published in both digital and hardcopy formats – because I like options and know you do, too!

The Quest for the Historical Jesus

The Historical Jesus: A Guide for the Perplexed by Helen K. Bond

If you have never heard of historical Jesus studies or the quest for the historical Jesus, this is where you should begin. This guide serves as an introduction to historical Jesus studies. It lays out the sources, issues with the sources, and follows the academic study of the historical Jesus from the 19th century through to the present day. It introduces and explains the three different ‘quests’ for the historical Jesus.

This is a great introduction to historical Jesus studies. Bond allows this guide to serve as an actual guide, evaluating evidences and scholars with an even-handed approach. She demonstrates sympathy towards many critical issues without distorting dissenting views. When you finish this guide, move on to the next book.

Available at:

Amazon: Hardcover Paperback Ebook

The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth by Ben Witherington III

Voted one of Christianity Today’s 1996 Books of the Year

After reading the initial guide to historical Jesus studies, this book is where you will want to go next.

In recent years Jesus’ time, place and social setting have received renewed scholarly attention. New research on the Dead Sea Scrolls and other Jewish and Hellenistic texts has resulted in a surge of new images of Jesus and new ideas about his ministry. But are these ideas accurate, based on the best research methods?

The controversial works of various scholars were presented to the public by publicists and media as the voices of learned consensus. But at the center of the scholarly investigation of Jesus, a less known but not less informed majority rejects many of the methods and conclusions of those who have captured the limelight.

In The Jesus Quest Ben Witherington, a participant in the Quest, offers the first comprehensive determination and assessment of what scholars are really saying about Jesus. In addition to the views of Crossan, Borg and Mack, he presents and interacts with the work of important scholars such as Geza Vermes, E. P. Sanders, Gerd Theissen, Richard Horsley, John P. Meier, N. T. Wright and Elisabeth Schssler Fiorenza, as well as outlining his own understanding of Jesus.

Available at:

Amazon: Hardcover Paperback Ebook

Christianbook: Paperback

The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus by Dale C. Allison Jr.

Informally presents and evaluates complex–sometimes troubling–issues in scholarly discussion of Jesus Christ.

In this book, which he describes as “my personal testimony to doubt seeking understanding,” Dale Allison thoughtfully addresses ongoing historical-theological questions concerning Jesus. What should one think of the modern quest for the historical Jesus when there is such enduring discord among the experts, and when personal agendas play such a large role in the reconstructions? How much history is in the Gospels, and how much history does Christian theology require that there be? How does the quest impinge upon conventional Christian beliefs, and what might it contribute to contemporary theological reflection? 

The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus is the personal statement of lessons that a respected participant in the quest has learned throughout the course of his academic career.

Available at:

Amazon: Paperback Ebook

Christianbook: Paperback

The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is by N. T. Wright

Hardcover published by IVP Books November 14, 1999; Paperback and Ebook updated and published February 11, 2015

Today a renewed and vigorous scholarly quest for the historical Jesus is underway. In the midst of well-publicized and controversial books on Jesus, N. T. Wright’s lectures and writings have been widely recognized for providing a fresh, provocative and historically credible portrait. Now this [updated] edition of Wright’s classic work contains the same original content plus even more insight with an all-new introduction by the author.

Out of his own commitment to both historical scholarship and Christian ministry, Wright challenges us to roll up our sleeves and take seriously the study of the historical Jesus. He writes, “Many Christians have been, frankly, sloppy in their thinking and talking about Jesus, and hence, sadly, in their praying and in their practice of discipleship. We cannot assume that by saying the word Jesus, still less the word Christ, we are automatically in touch with the real Jesus who walked and talked in first-century Palestine. . . . Only by hard, historical work can we move toward a fuller comprehension of what the Gospels themselves were trying to say.”

The Challenge of Jesus poses a double-edged challenge: to grow in our understanding of the historical Jesus within the Palestinian world of the first century, and to follow Jesus more faithfully into the postmodern world of the twenty-first century.

Available at:

Amazon: Hardcover (1999 edition) Paperback Kindle

Christianbook: Paperback Ebook

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Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham

A groundbreaking work in New Testament studies expanded and updated

Lastly, I include Jesus and the Eyewitnesses because while not devoted strictly to the study of the historical Jesus, I felt it was worth including in this list. It covers a lot of ground in discussing why we should consider the Gospel accounts as eyewitness testimony. It is a very large book, packed with information. You will want to get this and read it carefully over time.

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses argues that the four Gospels are closely based on the eyewitness testimony of those who personally knew Jesus. Bauckham challenges the prevailing assumption that the Jesus accounts circulated as “anonymous community traditions,” asserting instead that they were transmitted in the names of the original eyewitnesses.

Available at:

Amazon: Hardcover Paperback Kindle

Christianbook: Hardcover

Conclusion

With more people increasingly likely to believe Jesus did not actually exist we need to answer their questions honestly, and with proper historical context. It is not enough to say it is simply a matter of faith.

We cannot argue people into the kingdom, but we can overcome unreasonable objections with reasonable historical evidence that Jesus existed, who He claimed to be and what He claimed to be here to do.

I’d love to hear what you think

How could learning about the historical Jesus help you be more bold and fearless for the Gospel? What did you say the last time someone told you they didn’t believe Jesus actually existed?

Let’s chat about it in the comments, and be sure to subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more tips!